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Jessica Lurker Cavaliere

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Through her artwork, Jessica Cavaliere strives to capture the beauty, movement and abundance of color found in nature. Her artwork is created through the process of needle felting, a method similar to that of tattooing. Rather than using ink, her medium is roving, or unspun wool. Small pieces are pulled off the roving, like pulling off a piece of cotton candy. Using a barbed needle tool, the wool is forced into a fabric backing, which serves as a canvas.  Ms. Cavaliere observes, “As a result of daily struggles, we rarely stop to appreciate the art that nature provides. Taking the time to slow down and see the beauty in every day has inspired me to focus on animals and landscapes in my work.”

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Q: Where do you live?

A: I live in Randolph with my husband, two kids and two dogs.

Q: Where is your studio?

A: My studio is located in the basement of our house.  For the longest time I worked on the kitchen table, dining room table and even my bed! My son (who is one of my biggest cheerleaders) tried to contact The Property Brothers on HGTV to renovate our basement for me as a surprise for my birthday.  Although that didn’t work out, it did push my husband and me to clean out a room in the basement and create a studio space for me to work. 

Q: How long have you been in the art making business? What’s your art background? How did you get into art?

A: I have always made art and have tried just about every medium, but have really thrown myself into needle felting for the past five years.  I have always loved anything that involved textiles or fibers.  In college, I focused on fashion and costume design and later went back to school to get my Master of Arts in Teaching.  I am currently an elementary art teacher and have been teaching for sixteen years. 


Q: How do you structure your day/week? How do you balance your time in the studio with other commitments such as a part-time job, family, admin?

A: During the school year, I work as an elementary art teacher.  In addition, I have two of my own children, 11 and 14.  While it is difficult to carve out time to sit and create, it has gotten a bit easier as my children have gotten older.  Now, when we all get home from school, I head to my studio and my kids head to their rooms to do their homework.  I can usually get in an hour of work before dinner, dog walking and activities happen.  I am also fortunate to be able to work on the weekends in my studio quite a bit. My husband is the real hero who is not only super patient and supportive, but works hard to make sure the laundry is done and the bathrooms are clean!  

Q: What is your favorite thing about being an artist? Least favorite?

A: I would have to say that my favorite part of being an artist is sharing my work with others and seeing them get enjoyment from it.  Least favorite?  Self-doubt!

Q: What memorable responses have you had to your work?

A: I do many commissions for people who have lost pets, especially dogs.  While I certainly would never want to intentionally make anyone cry, when my portraits do bring tears, I know that I have done my job and brought a little peace to someone who has suffered the loss of a best pal.  

Q: When you are working through problems in your work, who do you talk to?  Do you have a mentor or coach? What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given? What advice do you have to give to other artists?

A: My family is a huge support system for me.  My husband and kids are my sounding board and are who I go to with questions, doubts and advice.  Best advice? My daughter once told me, “Mommy, stop thinking and just paint.”  Advice to give? Never be afraid to take a chance.

Q: Where can people see your art? Do you have any exhibitions coming up? 

A: Recently, one of my pieces was juried into the exhibit “Felt: Fibers Transformed” and can be seen in the summer issue of Fiber Art Now magazine.  I am also hoping to participate in Morris Arts Fest which is usually held in the early fall by Morris Arts. 

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Q: Where is your favorite place to find visual arts in Morris County?

A: I grew up going to the Morris Museum, and I still frequently visit with my children.  I love being able to see the work of other New Jersey artists and the variety of art that they feature in their exhibits.  

Q: What kind of art do you create?

I create my art through the process of needle felting.  I create two dimensional works of art using a tiny barbed needle and fibers of wool. The process is sometimes called “painting with wool.”  I love to focus on recreating the beauty of nature with wool, primarily through landscapes and animals. 

Q: Has your practice changed over time? Why/ how?

A: As an elementary art teacher, I wanted to show my students that clothing can be an art form.  I have always made much of my own clothing, and I began making dresses and skirts in fabrics featuring famous works of art.  I stumbled upon needle felting and began repurposing old sweaters to wear to school by felting famous works of art such as the Starry Night, The Scream and a portrait of Frida Kahlo onto them.  For an animal themed art show, I needle felted one of George Rodrigue’s Blue Dogs onto a sweater.  A friend saw it and asked if I could do a portrait of her dog, and so it began!  My work started out very impressionistic, and has evolved to much more realistic works of art where I strive to capture tiny details such as fur, feathers and scales with wool.

Q: What are you working on at the moment? 

A: One of the top items on my needle felting “bucket list” was to needle felt a human portrait, as so much of my work has focused on animals with scales, feathers and fur.  I have just finished a portrait of my children (and one of our dogs) and am reflecting on the process and where it might take me next.  I am also currently working on a few commissions, as well as experimenting with wet felting for the background of a landscape.  This summer we are planning a trip out west where I hope to soak up lots of inspiration!

Q: What inspires you? Who are your favorite artists/artwork? Favorite museum/gallery?

A: Through my artwork, I strive to capture the beauty, movement and abundance of color found in nature. My love for nature and animals has been my biggest inspiration.  Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” has always been one of my favorite works of art.  I never tire of looking at it and getting lost in its movement.  I could spend hours looking at it at the MOMA.  I also love discovering new fiber artists.  A few of my favorites are Bisa Butler (from NJ!), Laura Ricks, and Victoria Villasana.

Q: What are a few of your big artistic goals? What is your dream project?

A: I suppose, like most artists, my biggest artistic goal would be to have my work featured in a gallery. (I have visions of an exhibit with large landscapes…?) I would also love to have a residency where I could work, share my art, and teach others the art of needle felting.  

Q: How do you stay connected and up to date with the art world?

A: Instagram has been a great way for me to discover and connect with new people and artists.  I love being able to find new artists to inspire me and my students.  In addition, I love to visit museums and galleries and try to take advantage of the many in our area.  


Q: What do you want others to know about your art practice/artistic themes/stylistic choices/materials you use? 

A: Needle felting and wool are generally not a medium that many people have exposure to, and has traditionally been viewed as craft.  I love being able to share my work and my medium with other people, and I strive to overcome the craft label and elevate it to fine art.  


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Lightning Round

Q: What was the weirdest/worst “survival” job you ever had?

A: When I was getting my Masters, I worked in an orthodontic lab sculpting plaster models of teeth!

Q: What is the perfect food?

A: It’s a toss up between pasta and sushi…

Q: As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A: A fashion designer or an artist

Q: What is your most treasured possession?

A: I am super sentimental, so of all these questions, I struggled with this one the most! I would have to say my sewing machine that my mother gave me almost thirty years ago, a letter my dad sent me in college, and anything from my grandmother or my kids.

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Q: Are you an early bird or night owl?

A: If I am being completely honest, neither!

Q: What place would you like to visit?

A: The pyramids in Egypt and Charleston, South Carolina. Too totally different directions, I know!

Q: What superpower would you have and why?

A: I think it would be some sort of “Master of Time,” where I could create more when needed or travel back in time to relive special times in my life like when my kiddos were little or a sleepover with my grandmother.

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